lightning news

Public fascination with local breaking news expanded into an obsession with far-away events. The term lightning news evolved, reflecting that telegraph delivery was not only instantaneous but also electrical. In the late 1800s, electricity was lighting cities for the first time and powering factories, transforming human existence. Among all the new technologies, lightning news was a prominent product.

In the 1920s with radio emerging as a news medium, public interest in breaking news was fueled as never before. A radio reporter could be on the scene, at an event, and people could listen to the events while they were occurring.

Stunt Journalism. New York World publisher Joseph Pulitzer sent Nellie Bly, his star reporter, on an around-the-world trip in 1890 to try to outdo the fictional Phineas Fogg’s 80-day trip. Her feat took 72 days. Pulitzer was good at creating compelling stories, some frivolous, some not. In a major serious endeavor, Bly faked insanity to get checked into an asylum and then exposed the dreadful conditions in a front-page series in the World. Reforms throughout the mental health care system resulted.

Objectivity A major tenet of the Bennett Model involved replacing opinionated content of earlier partisan papers with dispassionate objectivity. Chasing the largest possible audiences,

penny papers like Bennett’s New York Herald chose to avoid slants that might offend major audience segments. Opinion was out, and objective storytelling was in.

A detached tone became a norm with the early Associated Press (AP) as a model. Several cost-conscious New York newspapers created the AP in 1848 as a joint venture to cover distant news while splitting the cost. An upshot of the shared-staff concept was that AP stories needed to be nonpartisan to be useable in all AP papers. The result was an emphasis on fact-driven reporting devoid of any hint of partisanship or bias.

Another fundamental shift cemented objectivity into the Bennett Model. As news became more profitable, newspapers matured into financial engines. By the 1880s, major publishers—Pulitzer, Hearst, Scripps, and others—saw their newspapers as money machines. With the financial bottom line gaining more weight, the safest route to continue building their audiences and enhance revenue was to avoid antagonizing readers and advertisers. There was money to be made in neutral presentations. Picking up a lesson from the AP, profit-driven publishers opted for information-driven news over impassioned pleas and overly dramatic storytelling. Opinions remained a part of the news landscape, but they were cordoned off in editorial sections and presented as Op-Ed pieces. The coverage of events, which became the definition of daily journalism, was presented as neutrally as possible.

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